Developing indicators of the social sustainability of farming using the Teagasc National Farm Survey

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Brennan, Mary
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University College Cork
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The emergence of agricultural and food sustainability as a major societal objective has resulted in a considerable shift in the focus and design of EU policy relating to agriculture, food, and rural development. As such, the dimensions of sustainability (economic, environmental and social) are reflected in the Farm to Fork Strategy and the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) 2023-2027. The monitoring and evaluation of policy is a key element of the new CAP and consequently, there exists a need for harmonised multidimensional indicators to gauge progress towards specific sustainability targets. Moreover, the transition of the Farm Accountancy Data Network (FADN) to the Farm Sustainability Data Network (FSDN) reflects the commitment of the European Commission to enhancing sustainable farming practices, and this necessitates an expansion of existing farm level indicators to improve policy monitoring and evaluation, particularly with regard to social and environmental metrics. In response to this policy need, this thesis aims to contribute to the ongoing development of sustainability metrics at the farm level, cognisant of evolving policy themes and drivers impacting Irish and European agriculture, and focuses on social indicators of sustainability. Indicators to assess the economic, and more recently, environmental sustainability of agricultural systems have dominated much of the sustainability discourse to date, with little on the assessment of social sustainability. The broad nature of social sustainability does not lend itself readily to measurement by conventional, quantitative means. An extensive review of the literature suggests that agricultural social sustainability can be considered as either ‘internal’ (relating to farmer wellbeing) and ‘external’ (at societal level)’, encompassing animal welfare and community wellbeing. Expanding on this ‘internal’ and ‘external’ classification, and following consultation with stakeholders, this thesis categorises social sustainability into dimensions reflecting farmer, animal and community wellbeing, and identifies relevant indicators for each dimension. Farmer wellbeing incorporates elements relating to quality of life (i.e. working hours, stress etc.), animal wellbeing consolidates herd level welfare data, while community wellbeing examines indicators measuring multifunctionality, service accessibility and heritage and culture (including generational renewal). Statistical analysis of data collected through a special survey, in addition to supporting socio-demographic data from the Teagasc National Farm Survey (NFS) relayed key information on the social sustainability of Irish farms. From a farmer wellbeing perspective, this research finds that dairy farmers are more likely to experience farm related stress relative to operators of cattle, sheep or tillage systems. In addition to a stress assessment, this thesis assessed farmer wellbeing levels through the development of a composite index, the Farmer Sustainability Index (FSI), comprising indicators which reflect farm continuity, community and social connections, and farmer comfort. The FSI indicates that farmers working in the cattle sector, of older age profile, and residing in more peripheral regions experience relatively lower levels of wellbeing. Indicators assessing community wellbeing reveal regional variation, with communities in the Border and West performing less well in terms of wellbeing compared to other regions. In terms of farm continuity, a higher proportion of dairy farmers have identified a successor. Moreover, in terms of animal wellbeing, representative data from the NFS finds that welfare on dairy farms has remained relatively stable during an expansionary phase following EU milk quota abolition in 2015. These findings indicate that farm level social sustainability varies considerably by farm system and subsequently region. Variations in the FSI scores and those of its components reveal the extent to which farm heterogeneity influences wellbeing levels. Additionally, the underlying farm economic and socio-demographic attributes are influential. This serves to highlight difficulties in applying a common policy approach in the pursuit of improved social sustainability across farm systems with differing wellbeing needs. As the FADN expands its remit to better encapsulate sustainability through the FSDN, it is imperative that additional social sustainability indicators are developed. This thesis finds that, with modifications, the FADN framework retains the ability to effectively assess and collect social sustainability metrics for European farms. Indeed the Teagasc National Farm Survey has been at the forefront in this regard, devising a bank of social sustainability indicators and providing a roadmap for data collection and analysis. This research contributes to the discourse on agricultural social sustainability measurement, through the development of a range of indicators reflective of farmer, animal and community wellbeing dimensions. Recommendations for future data collection and research are also provided.
Social sustainability , Farmer well-being , Animal well-being , Community well-being , Agricultural policy
Brennan, M. 2022. Developing indicators of the social sustainability of farming using the Teagasc National Farm Survey. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.
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